Any Veteran that has started to write a VA Form 21 4138 to apply for VA disability could use some tips and tricks.
Veterans’ disability compensation covers everything from physical conditions like diabetes and traumatic brain injury to post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. But applying for this money can be confusing, to say the least.
Many veterans hoping to get VA disability soon find themselves discouraged, confused, and left without the income they deserve. But there are some steps you can take to increase your chances of winning your case. Read on to learn more about how to improve your chances of getting your VA disability application approved.
Categories of Our Tips for VA Disability Applications:
- VA Disability Application Tips
- Getting a Diagnosis
- Filling Out Your Application
- Gathering and Submitting Evidence
- VA Appeals Tips and Tricks
- Right After Your Decision
- During the Appeals Process
- During a BVA Hearing
- C&P Exam Tips and Tricks
- Preparing for the C&P Exam
- During the Exam
- After the Exam
- Veteran’s Buddy Statement and Lay Statement Tips
- How the VA May Trick You
- Get Help for Veterans Hoping to Get VA Disability
VA Disability Application Tips
There are a lot of steps, so we’ve broken down the VA application and appeal tips and tricks into different stages and categories of the process.
Getting a Diagnosis
- Make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible so you don’t miss any application deadlines (more on those later).
- Make sure the doctor from whom you got your diagnosis is an approved medical professional by VA standards. (We have some on staff if you need one.)
- Be completely up front with your doctor about any and all symptoms you’re having.
- If you don’t trust your doctor’s diagnosis, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.
- Include any mental health symptoms you’re having when you talk to your doctor (nervousness, trouble sleeping, mood swings, etc.).
- Let your doctor know about any medications you took or were prescribed during your service, as well as those you’re currently taking.
Filling Out Your Application
- When you’re filling out your application, think about it from the perspective of someone who has never met you before and make sure the application paints a complete picture of your condition.
- Make sure you list all of your symptoms and describe the full impact they have on your life.
- If you’ve lost your job because of your disability, talk about how your income has changed and any financial hardships you face.
- Tell the complete story of how your disability came to be, including every detail of the incident.
- Talk to someone familiar with VA law to make sure you understand how the process works.
- Don’t forget your mental disabilities (PTSD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, etc.) when you’re filling out your application.
- Set up an eBenefits account to track your claim online all the way through the process.
Gathering and Submitting Evidence
- Make sure you submit your DD-214, any other separation documents, service treatment records, and any medical evidence or treatment records with your application.
- Gather as much evidence as you can, including your service and medical records and your claims file.
- Make sure your contact information is up to date with the VA so they aren’t sending notices to an old address.
- If something significant changes in your life (you get married, have a baby, or begin caring for an elderly parent), let the VA know about it. Your compensation may change accordingly.
- Keep an eye out for acknowledgement from the VA by mail or through eBenefits that they received your application.
- Keep an eye out for your Rating Decision letter, and if you disagree with it, prepare to appeal the decision.
You can help an appeal with a Buddy statement or a Lay Statement. Here one of our VA disability lawyers talks about how a Buddy Statement works.
VA Appeals Tips and Tricks
The appeal process is different than the application process. VA appeals also have different rules, due dates, and criteria. Make sure you keep track of the important dates as you appeal their decision.
Right After Your Decision
- Keep copies of all the evidence you submit, as well as your claims file on hand for your appeal.
- Talk to a lawyer who specializes in veteran disability cases and who can help argue your case before the appeal board.
- File your Notice of Disagreement Form 21-0958 as soon as possible after you receive your denial. You’ll only have a year to file this form, so don’t put it off. Contact us before you file it though, so that we can make your one chance count!
- Don’t forget that you can also appeal a decision if you feel the rating you receive is too low and does not accurately reflect your condition.
- You can also appeal the effective date that the VA assigns. This would give you more back pay and may cover more disabilities.
A veteran’s disability lawyer with 40 years experience talks about the importance of your effective date from the VA:
During the Appeals Process
- Review your Statement of the Case when it arrives and figure out what the specific problem with your claim was. Call your Woods and Woods case manager at (866)232-5777 and go over it all with your team.
- If it turns out that the VA was missing some crucial piece of evidence in your case, get in touch with a representative at your local VA and ask how to resubmit it.
- Keep an eye out for your Supplemental Statement of the Case letter that the VA may issue after you resubmit evidence. Keep this in your file with the rest of your evidence.
- File your Substantive Appeal as soon as possible after you get your Statement of the Case or Supplemental Statement of the Case.
- If you believe your case is not being heard properly by your local VA, request that a veterans law judge review your case.
- If you have additional issues arise after you file your claim, you can file a supplemental claim to address those problems.
Here, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about what we do when we appeal your case to the Veteran’s Administration.
During a BVA Hearing
- If your case lands before the Board of Veteran Appeals, decide whether you want to have your case heard at your regional VBA office, whether you want to travel to D.C., or if you want to have a virtual hearing.
- Show up early on the day of your hearing, no matter what method you’re using. Cases are heard on a first-come, first-serve basis.
- Prepare a statement about your case to deliver during your hearing. This should clearly demonstrate both your disability and your eligibility for VA compensation.
- Make sure to submit any additional evidence well before a BVA hearing so the judge has plenty of time to review it.
- Write down any questions you have for the judge before your pre-hearing conference.
- Dress comfortably and professionally on the day of your hearing. First impressions go a long way.
- During the proceedings, address the chair of the board as “Mr. Chairman” or “Madam Chair.”
- If you need to submit any additional evidence after the hearing, ask the judge to hold off on issuing a decision while you gather the needed evidence.
C&P Exam Tips and Tricks
Your C&P exam is all about establishing your VA disability ratings, not treatment. Don’t be frustrated if they don’t tell you what to do about your health when you leave your C&P exam. That’s not the purpose. You want to be honest and get the highest ratings your can for your disabilities.
Preparing for the C&P Exam
- Show up for your first C&P exam if at all possible. Without this exam, the VA may deny your claim outright.
- If you absolutely can’t make it to the first exam, reschedule it as soon as possible.
- Bring a complete medical history and service record with you to the exam. This should include all reports from any doctors you’ve already seen about your symptoms.
- Study up on the exam beforehand and make sure the doctor performs all of the tests he or she may need in order to diagnose your condition.
- Bring plenty of records for the doctor to review if they need to, but answer only the questions they ask during the exam.
During the Exam
- Be absolutely honest with the doctor examining you about all of your symptoms.
- Don’t be afraid to keep asking your doctor questions until you understand why they don’t want to run a certain test or why they gave you a certain diagnosis.
- Keep your explanation of why you deserve VA disability compensation short. Think, “I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes while I was in the service,” or “I separated my shoulder during basic training.”
- Be polite during the exam, even if the doctor seems rushed, cold, or rude.
- Try to describe your symptoms in natural terms, not legalistic jargon. It’ll make a better impression on the examining doctor.
- Don’t be tough! If you say “It’s alright” then they will right that on your chart and there will be a record that your disabling condition is “alright.”
- Paint a picture of the way your symptoms impact your everyday life. Describe the everyday hardships and the way it impacts your relationship with the people around you.
- Dress as you would for any normal day when you go in for your exam.
- Bring someone like a spouse, sibling, or close friend along with you to the exam. They can help corroborate what you’re saying and provide a more objective view of your symptoms.
After the Exam
- Don’t debate with the examiner about their decision. Save your energy for the judge.
- Kindly ask for the doctor’s name and a copy of the C&P exam before you leave.
- Write down notes of what the doctor did during the exam as soon as you leave the office.
- Be proactive in getting any documentation you need from the doctor at your exam.
- Be sure to submit your C&P exam report to the VA as soon as possible after the exam.
- Plan to go out for steak or your favorite burger or something afterward. Try to give yourself something fun to look forward to so you can think about that during the exam and not be nervous.
Some of our Veterans Disability Law team give you tips to prepare for and win your C&P Exam.
Veteran’s Buddy Statement and Lay Statement Tips
- Ask your closest friends, family, and fellow service members to write statements.
- Ask these people to include accounts of what you were like before and after your disability started.
- For mental disorders, ask that buddy statements include both how they see your disability impacting your life and how it impacts your relationship with them.
- For physical disorders, buddy statements should include descriptions of the way your disability keeps you from doing things you used to do.
- If you are seeking individual unemployability, ask your former employer to write a buddy statement discussing how your condition impacted your ability to work. Even a jerk ex-boss might help out and write one of these letters if you ask him/her the right way.
- Ask your service buddies to write statements discussing the incident during which your disability began. These can help to corroborate your service connection.
- Make sure you submit your buddy statements with your original claim. If you miss that deadline, you can submit them with an appeal.
- Keep the buddy statements short and simple, and include contact information for the people writing them.
- Ask that the people writing these statements for you include a closing statement certifying that their statements are true and correct to the best of their knowledge and belief.
- Let your statement writers use their own words. Spoon feeding them things to include can come across as disingenuous.
- Since you have to have new and relevant evidence to appeal, a new Lay statement or Buddy statement might be the only new evidence you can get to appeal.
How the VA May Trick You
- Put all deadlines for your application on a digital calendar and set reminders for yourself. Missing deadlines could make it much harder to win your case.
- Make sure you’re aware of all the effective dates for your claim and appeals. Oftentimes, the effective date from which a deadline is set is the day the statement is issued, not the day you receive it.
- Double-check that the form you are submitting for your case is the right number. In some cases, the VA changes which form you need partway through and then denies your claim because the wrong form was filed.
- Keep a close eye on your claim status. If you sent in a piece of evidence and it doesn’t show up there, double-check with someone at your local VA as to why it isn’t included with the file.
- Make sure you have backups for every piece of evidence you submit.
- If you send in a copy of your service medical record stating that a certain event occurred, include a few buddy letters from your fellow service members that confirm your story and keep copies of those too.
- Don’t give up just because your claim is denied. You have lots of options for appeals and supplementary applications.
- If all of your appeals and supplementary applications are rejected, laws can still change to make you eligible again. We contact past clients when this happens, like with Blue Water Navy Vets.
- If you suspect that a medical exam may not have found the true answer, always go get a second opinion. More relevant evidence will never hurt your case. If two doctors disagree, the VA has to go with the one that would rate you the highest!
- Remember that you can request a higher-level review of your case if you feel your problems aren’t being addressed adequately at your local VA.
Get Help for Veterans Hoping to Get VA Disability
If you served in the military and you now suffer from health complications, you are likely entitled to compensation from the VA. Getting that compensation can be a tricky process, and veterans hoping to get VA disability should follow the tips outlined here. Gather as much evidence as you can, don’t procrastinate, and never give up.
If you’d like to get the best help in pursuing your claim, reach out to us at Woods and Woods. We fight for veterans across the country, and you don’t pay unless we win. Contact us today to start getting the help you deserve.
Did we miss something? Let us know and we’ll add to the list. We serve veterans all over the United States and its territories. There are bound to be more tips that we’ve overlooked.